Sir Christopher Ondaatje South Asian Gallery re-opens at the ROM on February 16th

The Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) is proud to announce the re-opening of the Sir Christopher Ondaatje South Asian Gallery, named in honour of Sir Christopher Ondaatje, C.B.E., O.C., in appreciation of his generous support of Renaissance ROM and the Royal Ontario Museum. The original gallery, the first in Canada to highlight South Asian culture, opened at the ROM in 2000. The new gallery, located on Level 3 of the Michael Lee-Chin Crystal, is scheduled to open February 16, 2008.

“This gallery is uniquely Canadian,” says Sir Christopher Ondaatje. “While conflict exists in many parts of the world, here in Canada we have created a tremendously diverse South Asian gallery, with Canada’s varied South Asian communities and the ROM matching my initial support. What an achievement! It is to this ideal that I pledged a further $1 million. Canada is the great United Nations experiment, and it is working.”

William Thorsell, the ROM’s Director and CEO responds, “The ROM is grateful to Sir Christopher Ondaatje, whose ongoing support has again enabled the ROM to bring more of its objects out of its collections areas and into the public eye, where they belong. The ROM’s South Asian collection is particularly renowned and, thanks to Sir Christopher, visitors to the Michael Lee-Chin Crystal will delight in old favourites and come to appreciate brand new highlights.”

"As inaugural season sponsor, it has been our pleasure to support the ROM as it brings this fascinating Michael Lee-Chin Crystal gallery to the public,” states Gerry McCaughey, President and Chief Executive Officer of CIBC. “We are very proud of our long history of support for this world-class museum, and of this year-long partnership as the ROM enters this exciting new phase in its history.”

The Sir Christopher Ondaatje South Asian Gallery presents the ROM’s important collection of the artistic and cultural traditions of South Asia. Spanning over 5,000 years, each artifact reveals aspects of South Asia’s long and diverse history. Nine thematically organized exhibit areas present the ROM’s outstanding collection of South Asian religious objects and sculpture, decorative arts, arms and armour, miniature paintings and textiles, originating from countries such as Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Tibet.

Dr. Deepali Dewan, Curator of South Asian art in the ROM’s World Cultures department and lead curator for the Sir Christopher Ondaatje South Asian Gallery states, “This gallery presents the history of South Asian art as a series of stories. Visitors can move easily within the space to find their favourite ones and their favourite artifacts. There are some highly significant objects in the ROM's collection that the public should know about and the gallery provides the opportunity to finally showcase them. We thank Sir Christopher Ondaatje for his contribution and vision which has allowed us to accomplish this.”

The section of the Gallery titled Material Remains highlights the material culture of ancient South Asia from the Indus Valley Civilization (3500 - 1900 BC) in present-day Pakistan to the Sunga Period (3rd - 2nd century BC) in northern India. Numerous pottery sherds displayed here illustrate the many designs used at the ancient site of Chanhu Daro. Other sections include Imaging the Buddha, tracing the birth and development of Buddhist art from the 3rd to 5th centuries, especially focusing on the region of Gandhara. One highlight of this section is a large, beautifully preserved stucco head of a Boddisattva dated to the 4th – 5th century. The Goddess, the section exploring icons of the feminine divine represented in both benevolent and wrathful forms, includes a magnificent 10th century stone sculpture of the goddess Yogini, once part of a set of sculptures, now dispersed across the western world in several museum collections.

Visualizing Divinity showcases representations of gods across several religions and their various manifestations over time. A significant object here is a large bronze Shiva Nataraja (Lord of Dance), dating to the 12th to 14th centuries. Passage to Enlightenment presents the colourful arts of the Himalayan region, which gave concrete form to concepts of esoteric Buddhism, dating from the 15th century to the present day, while Courtly Culture describes lavish luxury items and displays of grandeur predominantly from the Mughal and Rajput courts of the 16th thorough mid-19th centuries. Objects such as arms and armour, crystal, jade, jewellery, ivory and miniature paintings are displayed here.

The modern period is examined in two sections. Cultural Exchange focuses on Dutch, Portuguese, and British commercial interaction with South Asia from the 16th-19th centuries and the new social, political, and cultural relationships that were established. Highlighted here is a lovely hand-painted and dyed palampore textile. Depicting the Tree of Life, and originating on the Coromandel Coast, India, the textile was made for export in the 18th century. Home and the World presents modern and contemporary art of South Asia and of the South Asian Diaspora. Video, painting, photography and sculpture are included in this section.

Greeting visitors as they enter the Ondaatje Gallery is a beautiful balustrade, which was once part of a Sri Lankan palace or temple. The balustrade depicts a Yali, an auspicious mythical animal that is part lion and part dragon. This recent acquisition was acquired with the generous support of the Louise Hawley Stone Charitable Trust. The Louise Hawley Stone Fund was established in 1998, through an extraordinarily generous bequest of $50 million--the largest bequest ever received by a Canadian cultural institution--by long time Royal Ontario Museum Trustee and patron Louise Hawley Stone (1904 -1997). Administered by the ROM Governors, the Louise Hawley Stone Strategic Acquisitions Fund exists to support the building and promoting of the ROM’s collections through the ongoing acquisition of excellent objects. Other recent Stone acquisitions to be displayed for the first time in the new Ondaatje Gallery include an exquisite water colour from 18th century India depicting Ganesh with Ridhi and Sidhi; a stunning manuscript dated from 1822 from Pakistan; and a rare 3rd century Buddhist reliquary with delicate gold and pearl ornamentation.

As well, the South Asia Research and Acquisition Fund is responsible for more than $1 million being spent on new acquisitions for the expanded Ondaatje Gallery. Since the original Ondaatje Gallery’s inauguration in 2000, the ROM’s South Asian collection has nearly doubled in size. Among the objects displayed are a vibrant 1950s painting of a Dancing Gopi by India’s Jamini Roy and a spectacular Untitled sculpture (2002) of teak, metal, and indigo by artist Navjot Altaf.

The new Sir Christopher Ondaatje South Asian Gallery, located next to the new Wirth Gallery of the Middle East, features the trademark Lee-Chin Crystal high ceilings, natural light and astonishing angled walls. At 4,000 square feet, the Ondaatje Gallery is home to over 350 artifacts, representing the various cultural traditions of South Asia. This remarkable space includes a series of angled windows overlooking Bloor Street, the ROM’s Music Court and Philosophers’ Walk in its north and northwest corners.

The collection in the Sir Christopher Ondaatje South Asian Gallery contains a number of objects that are sensitive to light and other environmental factors. A rotating exhibition area will serve the important function of bringing more of the Museum’s hidden treasures before the public for short periods, in a manner consistent with preservation standards. This versatile space will also offer an element of rediscovery for repeat visitors and ensure that the Sir Christopher Ondaatje South Asian Gallery experience remains continuously dynamic. The first temporary exhibition to be featured is Playful Krishna, an exhibit of approximately 40 objects highlighting the figure of the Hindu God Krishna. Krishna is one of the most beloved of Hindu gods throughout the South Asian subcontinent. While one of the more complex gods, he is also one of the most accessible. One artifact highlighted in this exhibit is a recent acquisition of a picchvai – a painting on cloth depicting the pilgrimage route to sites sacred to Krishna’s life. This exhibit explores the various manifestations of Krishna in art and their regional stylistic and iconographic variations.

The Wirth Gallery of the Middle East is also scheduled to open on February 16. The gallery is an exploration of the civilizations that started in the Fertile Crescent and beyond, including the current day regions of Afghanistan, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, the West Bank, Syria, Turkey, and Yemen. The diverse display of more than 1,000 artifacts examines the region’s contributions to both eastern and western civilizations through culture and technology from the Palaeolithic Age to AD 1900.